Posts by: Matin Durrani

The May 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWMay17cover-200By Matin Durrani

Einstein’s equations of general relativity might fit on a physicist’s coffee mug, but solving them is no mean feat. Now, however, the equations have been solved in a cosmological setting for the first time, as Tom Giblin, James Mertens and Glenn Starkman explain in the May 2017 issue of Physics World magazine, which is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop

Elsewhere in the issue, you can enjoy an interview with John Holdren, who spent eight years as Barack Obama’s presidential science adviser. Find out too about the good and bad of nanoparticles and explore the potential that skyrmions – magnetic quasiparticles – could hold as a new form of memory storage.

Don’t miss either this month’s Lateral Thoughts, in which physicist Roger Todd describes how his invention of a system for automatically watering his house plants almost led to a commercial device.

Remember that if you are a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and Web browsers.

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So you want to know about the dark universe?

Photo of Catherine Heymans, University of Edinburgh

Big thinker – Catherine Heymans is an observational cosmologist at the University of Edinburgh and author of the new Physics World Discovery ebook The Dark Universe.

By Matin Durrani

It never ceases to amaze me that we know almost nothing about 95% of the universe. Sure, the consensus is that 25% is dark matter and the rest is something dubbed “dark energy”, but beyond that our knowledge is wafer thin.

The flip side, though, is that there’s plenty for physicists to get stuck into. And if you want to get up to speed with the field and find out more about some of its challenges, do check out a new free-to-read Physics World Discovery ebook by Catherine Heymans from the Royal Observatory, University of Edinburgh, UK.

Available in ePub, Kindle and PDF formats, The Dark Universe explains the dark enigma and examines “the cosmologist’s toolkit of observations and techniques that allow us to confront different theories on the dark universe”. And to get you in the mood for all things dark, I asked Heymans some questions about her life as a research scientist. Here’s what she had to say.

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From blue fogs to Brexit – the April 2017 issue of Physics World is now out

PWApr17cover-500-ruleBy Matin Durrani

“The secret of the blue fog” might sound like a Tintin book, but it’s all about a strange form of liquid crystal that’s the cover story in the April 2017 issue of Physics World magazine, which is now live in the Physics World app for mobile and desktop.

First observed in the late 1800s, only recently have we finally uncovered the structure of these materials, which turn blue when cooled. As Oliver Henrich and Davide Marenduzzo explain, blue liquid crystals could be used for new kinds of display devices.

Elsewhere in the issue, mathematical physicist Jason Lotay explains his work in seven extra dimensions, while science writer Benjamin Skuse examines the challenge for respected physicists with theories outside the mainstream.

Don’t miss either our latest look at Donald Trump’s scientific shenanigans, including an interview with Rush Holt – the physicist-turned-politician who’s now head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Remember that if you are a member of the Institute of Physics, you can read Physics World magazine every month via our digital apps for iOS, Android and desktop.

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Quantitative finance: what’s it really all about?

Photo of Jessica James from Commerzbank - the author of a Physics World Discovery e-book on quantitative finance

Mixing physics and finance – Jessica James is the author of the new Physics World Discovery ebook Quantitative Finance.

By Matin Durrani

Among the many joys of studying physics is that a degree in the subject can take you down lots of different paths. As our recent Physics World Careers 2017 guide revealed, they range from research and industry to education, IT and even sports, politics and the arts.

One particularly popular destination is the world of finance, which is hardly surprising given physicists’ love of numbers. Those in finance work in many different areas, with one of the most high profile – and lucrative – being the field of “quantitative finance”.

But what exactly does the term mean and what’s the field all about? To find out more, do check out the new, free-to-read Physics World Discovery ebook entitled Quantitative Finance, written by Jessica James – a managing director and senior quantitative researcher at Commerzbank in London.

As James explains in the introduction to her book, the field includes “complex models and calculations that value financial contracts, particularly those which reference events in the future, and applies probabilities to these events”. I encourage you to read her book, which is available in PDF, ePub and Kindle formats. And to whet your appetite, James has kindly answered some questions about what she does, her career to date and what the book’s about.

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Using pottery to communicate science

one of the ceramic items created by Nadav Drukker on show at the new "Quantum ceramics" exhibition in London

Showcasing science – one of the ceramic items created by Nadav Drukker on show at the new Quantum Ceramics exhibition in London. (Courtesy: Nadav Drukker)

By Matin Durrani

You might not think theoretical physics and pottery have much in common. But they do now, thanks to a new exhibition being staged at the Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton, south-east London, which opens today.

Entitled Quantum Ceramics, the exhibition is the first solo display of ceramic works by theoretical physicist Nadav Drukker. Based at King’s College London, Drukker makes traditional studio pottery as a new way to communicate his scientific research.

Drukker, who is a string theorist, has six different projects – entitled “Circle”, “Cusp”, “Index”, “Polygons”, “Cut” and “Defect” – with each inspired by one of his research papers. His works are all traditional glazed stoneware and porcelain vessels, but decorated with mathematical symbols.

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Introducing Physics World Discovery

Image of the first five Physics World Discovery ebooks

Free to read – the first five Physics World Discovery titles.

By Matin Durrani

What better way to celebrate World Book Day than by checking out Physics World‘s new series of free-to-read, short-form ebooks. Entitled Physics World Discovery, they are short introductions to some of the hottest topics in physics written by leading voices in the physics community.

Available online here, these short-form ebooks follow all the attributes of feature articles in Physics World magazine – being well written, accessible, timely and authoritative. But as ebooks, they allow authors to go into more detail than a standard Physics World feature and include plenty of graphs, diagrams and pictures too.

Being short, each title is an ideal starting point for for physicists at all stages of their careers to get quickly up to speed with an evolving physics field.

We’ve published five Physics World Discovery texts so far, with more in the pipeline. You can read them in PDF, ePUB or Kindle format, making them perfect for those wanting intellectual stimulation on a train or plane journey.

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Brooklyn’s pioneering approach to art and science

 Janna Levin outside the Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York 21 February 2017

Where art and science mix – astrophysicist Janna Levin outside Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, New York.

By Matin Durrani in New York, US

After spending four days in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I travelled down by train to New York (gotta love those comfy Amtrak seats and free WiFi). I first hooked up with mathematical physicist Peter Woit at Columbia University and then with science philosopher Bob Crease from Stony Brook University, who’s been a long-time columnist for Physics World.

I was keen to find out if they’d be interested in writing for the new Physics World Discovery series of ebooks and, while at Columbia, I had also hoped to put the same question to astrophysicist and author Janna Levin, who’s based in the physics department. Turns out, however, that Levin is on sabbatical, spending a year as “director of sciences” at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn’s Red Hook district. Curious to find out more about a centre that seeks to “make culture accessible to all”, I accepted her invitation to pay a visit.

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Science supporters protest in Boston

Stand up for Science rally in Boston, 19 February 2017

Gathering of minds – scientists at today’s Stand up for Science rally at Copley Square in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Hundreds of scientists and science supporters gathered in Copley Square in Boston earlier today in a rally to underline the importance of science. The “Stand up for Science” event was organized to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is taking place a few blocks away.

To find out more about the aims and purpose of the rally, I hooked up with Geoffrey Supran (picutred below), who helped to organize the event. Having originally studied physics at the University of Cambridgein the UK, Supran obtained a PhD in materials science at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and is now doing a postdoc in the history of science with Naomi Oreskes at nearby Harvard University.

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AAAS chief predicts “tough and uncertain times” for US science funding

physicist and former Congressman Rush Holt is the current president of the American Association for the Advvancement of Science at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston 17 February 2017

Not for me – president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Rush Holt says there’s “no chance” of him becoming Donald Trump’s science adviser but admits it would be hard to turn down if offered.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Rush Holt is that rarity: a physicist who’s also been a politician, having spent 16 years as Democratic Congressman for New Jersey’s 12th congressional district from 1999 to 2015. Those two attributes make him well placed in his current role as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is holding its annual meeting here in Boston.

So when I sat down with Holt yesterday, our conversation naturally focused on the impact on science of Donald Trump’s election as US president. The bouffant-haired, former businessman and reality-TV star may have so far said little about the subject, but Holt believes that “tough and uncertain times” lie ahead for scientific funding. “I think we will be on a very austere budget for all non-defence discretionary activity,” he warns.

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Discover the secrets of science on TV

the panel of top TV producers seeking documentary ideas

Talent seekers – the panel of top TV producers wanting documentary ideas from delegates at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.

By Matin Durrani in Boston, US

Physics World has been involved in making online videos and what we call “mini documentaries” for more than seven years. But these are mostly low-budget affairs aimed at people who are, by and large, already interested in physics.

So what if you’re a physicist who wants to work with a big-shot producer to make a full-blown, hour-long  TV documentary watched by millions? Shows such as Horizon on the BBC or Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman on Discovery’s Science Channel get massive audiences, putting you in touch with far more people than most scientists could ever dream of.

A special session at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science had some of the answers. It brought together a bevvy of top TV producers (see slide above) who shared their tips on how scientists should pitch ideas for documentaries to them. A further session will be held tomorrow to let scientists propose real ideas in a kind of TV-science speed-dating.

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